By Ravina Ramlugun
One of the most popular festivals in India and Mauritius is indisputably Mahashivratri, which means the great night of Lord Shiva. The night of “Shivratri” is said to be the longest one of the year. It is a night of meditation aimed at cleansing the impurities accumulated during the year. Interestingly, most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, but Mahashivratri is celebrated throughout the night; there is undeniably a reason behind this.
What is the story behind this popular festival?
There once lived deep in the forest a hunter named Lubdaka with his wife and children. Every day, it was his duty to go and search for food for his family. As usual, one day, Lubdaka set out to the forest looking for a prey. After crossing several clearings, streams and rivers, he still could not find anything. However, thinking of his hungry children and wife, he went on, deeper and deeper into the forest.
Soon, the sun set. Lubdaka thought of his wife’s loving embrace and his children in their peaceful slumber, but he was very far from it all! He realised that he had entered too deep into the forest. The shrieks and shrills of wild animals were heard and he had to look for a shelter at once.
There was a large Bael tree near him, and he decided to climb up so that he could spot any sign of danger and stay away from it. That night there was clearly no way sleep would come to him. To pass the time, he plucked one leaf at a time and dropped it to the ground. It is said that Bael leaves are very sacred as Goddess Lakshmi resides in them. By sunrise, Lubdaka had dropped thousands of those leaves onto a Shiva Linga which happened to be just under the tree. Unaware of all this, however, he went back home as usual.
Time went by and Lubdaka’s hour of death drew near. As he was a vile hunter, his soul was being taken to the hell of Yama. But Lord Shiva, who is very loving and pleased by simple offerings, caught sight of what was happening and sent his troop to the hunter’s rescue. Eventually, Lord Yama agreed to hand over Lubdaka and the latter was taken to the heaven of Lord Shiva.
Thus, it can be perceived that whatever be one’s status, s/he can undoubtedly please the all-powerful One and obtain His blessings. It is for this reason that Lord Shiva is also known as Bholenath, the merciful One. (It is worthy of mention that there are other stories associated with the origin of Mahashivratri – however, the one of Lubdaka is the most popular.)
The domains of Lord Shiva
Besides, to shower His grace on the habitants of the earth, Lord Shiva chose certain areas as his domains of special effect. It is nearly impossible to count the number of mountains and rivers the earth has. However, out of all these regions, Lord Shiva has blessed some with more spiritual potency than others. Out of those specific Kshetras, some have been created by the celestials devoted to the Lord and others have been founded by seers and holy men. One such popular place is the city of Kashi, situated on the bank of the river Ganga. Another one is the Holy Godavari. In Mauritius, such a place is unquestionably the Ganga Talao – a well-known lake in a secluded mountain area and the most important Hindu site. In the year 1992, a Jyotirlinga (luminous symbol of Lord Shiva) was consecrated at the Ganga Talao.
“Om Namaha Shivaya”
Also, it can be seen that at the Ganga Talao, there is all the time the utterance of the mantra “Om Namaha Shivaya”. Indeed, the festival of Shivratri cannot be complete without this mantra. “Om Namaha Shivaya” means “I Bow down to Shiva”. However, if we break down the mantra, we can have a glimpse of its depth:
- Om: it is the primordial sound, the sound of creation and the first vibration that emerged out of the void and silence that existed before creation.
- Namah: I offer my most humble salutations.
- Shivaya: to Shiva, the most auspicious One, the Great God and the Master of time.
Chanting this mantra will bring one peace, mental clarity and happiness and will clear off grief and stress. It also helps in attracting positive energy and protecting one from negative energy.
A night of sanctity and self-reflection
Along with chanting this mantra, there are several other means by which a devotee can please the Lord and receive His blessings. Devotees may choose to show their love to the Unborn One on this night by fasting the whole day, by reading the Shiva Purana, by walking with Kanwars on their shoulders from their home to Ganga Talao, by serving other devotees with Prasad and by staying up the whole night to meditate on Lord Shiva. At the stroke of midnight, Shiva is said to manifest as the inner light of pure consciousness. If one follows this path of preparation, purification and celebration, then only can one experience the real meaning of Shivratri.
* Published in print edition on 25 February 2022
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